One year later: medical drones in Bayelsa, Nigeria

We love a peek back.

Especially if it involves drastic improvement to a state of community health and well-being that was not there before.

This past month, American drone logistics company Zipline and the state of Bayelsa in Nigeria celebrated one year since the launch of medical drone logistics in the west African country’s region, whose conventional means of transport was finding it hard to cope with healthcare demands for people living in the region.

Located in the Delta region south of Nigeria, Bayelsa followed in the footsteps of Kaduna and Cross River states to become the third state in the country to shake hands with Zipline and open a drone operation for the delivery of medical supplies in the region.

Having first signed a partnership agreement in January 2022, Zipline and the state of Bayelsa made their first drone deliveries last year – family planning commodities to primary health centres at Agbere and Ofoni.

“A year later, Zipline and the Ministry of Health in Bayelsa have successfully helped improve health outcomes by increasing access to crucial commodities,” the drone company said in a statement.

“To date, the Ministry of Health in Bayelsa has improved access to critical medical supplies by supporting Zipline’s more than 14,842 deliveries from its distribution centre in Yenagoa.”

Zipline has been shipping medical supplies to 228 healthcare facilities across all eight local government areas (LGAs) in Bayelsa. 

“These have included 683,581 doses of vaccines, essential medicines, treatments for tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS treatment and therapies, family planning commodities, and malnutrition treatment supplies such as ready-to-use therapeutic food.”

Access to many of the health facilities around Bayelsa has historically posed a challenge for the last-mile delivery of essential medicines, vaccines, and other health commodities.

That is because the majority of the state is covered by water: Bayelsa’s rivers, swamps, and mangroves make transportation difficult, a situation that is exacerbated by seasonal flooding.

Some communities in Bayelsa are only reachable by a four–to-six-hour boat ride, and medical supply deliveries have traditionally been unreliable.

This state of affairs led to the Bayelsa State Government partnering with Zipline to launch on-demand autonomous drone delivery from a distribution centre in the Yenagoa Local Government Area (LGA).

“We are working toward universal access to healthcare for people who live in Bayelsa State,” said Bayelsa’s Commissioner for Health, Dr Pabara Newton Igwele.

“We see drone delivery as a valuable tool in our work to improve health equity for all Nigerians.”

The drone logistics company and the Ministry of Health in Bayelsa are working on a future where they could collaborate on building a more resilient supply chain beyond the last mile, according to Nengi Lawson, head of health systems integration for Zipline in Bayelsa.

“We see opportunities to help strengthen the entire medical logistics system in Bayelsa and build a better, more integrated medical supply chain in the state,” Lawson said.   

Zipline plans on scaling its existing operations, bringing on-demand delivery of medical supplies to even more healthcare professionals at facilities in Bayelsa.

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